Dams create power by holding back the forward rush of rivers. In the news, there are photos out of South America, old women who won’t leave the land troops have come to claim, for construction. Their bodies pause the flood, for a few hours. See the strange proportions of power, how strong the will to hold back. § On summer outings I swam over houses in Carolina. Whole towns lay below our lakes, but I didn’t think of it as home to the largest engineering project in the world. Fontana Dam had spanned our river with a wall, a sleek structure, larger, stronger than the greatest rock faces, which were creased, had faults, could fall. The sight of rock crushers biting into mountains was appealing if you were angry at someone, a historian wrote. And soon enough, there was cause to be— for one dam, thirteen hundred families evicted, ninety cemeteries dug up. Shaped like a butterfly, that’s the Tennessee Valley. But it is no flighted, light thing. My thoughts should swim with dark, hearths gone cold, emptied graves, fish slipping slick-bellied over stones, when I turn on an electric lamp. § Dams up and down this valley. Dams for Surinam, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Patagonia—three hundred new ones proposed today. Or maybe the number has changed. It will have increased. Already, so many rivers are dammed that the earth is thrown off. It’s tilting on its axis, the angle measurably altered. Or is this not about change? Can I say nothing ever is over? People now are not so different than before. I pause to watch my reflection in water. It warps with some shift, goes strange, then stands again, and I am reminded of an arrogant, younger self, or a relative years gone. Who doesn’t live in the sway of the power of what’s pent up behind them? § So the people on the continents below ours want a stop, to stay where they speak their rare languages, in rain forests, among orchids still unnamed. What Fontana families have been asking for, for more than fifty years, is to have roads built to those cemeteries still above water, the foot paths to which did not show on maps and were cut off long ago. They want to go back to their dead. Let me keep it. Let me get it back. Aren’t our feelings common? That I’m living on the shore beyond where I belong, that I just passed over it in a loud motor boat. § Power always is sent to serve regions other than where it is made. Still, some dam designers, calling themselves, Engineers, enemies of error, meant well. What work but building was there left for locals, with the farm land eroded? Everyone was trying to hold things in place. I have done as much. Didn’t I spend hot childhood days damming up creeks, feeling like a creator, maybe even a savior, piling debris to slow water into a little pool to float in a little while? § At Fontana, in spring, lines of daffodils lead into the lake, along where flights of stairs had been, to the drowned town. There is much to regret, but let be the love for what was. I won’t follow that path down. But I would admire the bulbs of surviving daffodils. Also the blazes of color on the cheeks of tribes come to the cities in protest, their timeless tattoos, what looks like the past storming the streets.
Rose McLarney | And Inside Winged Beings Sleep Contents | Mudlark No. 51 (2013)